Fall has arrived and it’s back to school for many college students, but while some are dreading exams others are happily toting their stress-relieving pooches with them into their new dorms. Across the country, from MIT to UCLA, lizards, birds, gerbils, cats and dogs are checking in at registration tables for their own personal school IDs–smile and say BARK!
Petside.com, apparently now something of a US World & News Report for pet-friendly college reviews, recently released a list of the top ten pet-friendly colleges in the country. From coast to coast, some astute institutes of higher education have received two paws up for implementing pet-friendly dorm programs into their student life.
In the waterfront town of St. Petersburg, Florida resides the nation’s top choice for a pet-friendly college life. Eckerd College, a private liberal arts school with less than 2,000 undergraduates, has garnered much attention for its pet-friendly campus policies. While most other pet-friendly colleges limit the type of animals allowed, Eckerd College welcomes everything from cats and snakes to guinea pigs, and of course, dogs!
Elliott McDaniel, a junior at Eckerd and student director of Pet Life said, “It’s scary coming to a new college. Seventy-five percent of our students are coming from outside of Florida and having that animal with them is like having a piece of home with them.” McDaniel, pet parent to a happy guinea pig, says that owning a pet on campus can be incredibly soothing for those students suffering from depression or anxiety. He also adds that pet ownership leads to great community building amongst students. “Having a pet on campus can help people not just emotionally… but also [help them] to meet new people. A lot of students will approach a dog because it’s not common to have dogs on campus so they’ll go over and they have something to talk about and a reason to meet [other students],” said McDaniel.
Eckerd transfer and sophomore Melissa Ducheny is the happy owner of a five-year-old Pomeranian that she brought with her from New York City to live in a pet-friendly dorm. When it comes to socializing, she says her pom Bella is the popular pup around campus. “People already know who she is, they have no idea who I am but they know who she is. They know her name. She loves the attention. They all stop me and want to pet her,” says Ducheny who couldn’t imagine college life without her precious pooch.
“I consider her more like my daughter, definitely more than a pet… I’d be just as unhappy without her as she would be without me,” said Ducheny of Bella. She added that Bella has been a source of great comfort in her most difficult times, especially those stressful moments adjusting to her new college environment.
Despite the positive buzz around pet-friendly colleges, many canine advocates have expressed concern over whether or not a dorm is the best living environment for a dog. Many feel that irresponsible student owners might lead to neglected pups, citing dorm room size and the college “party animal” (no pun intended) lifestyle as detrimental to the dog’s well-being. In a recent article, USA TODAY said, “The chaos of campus life, the tendency among young people to make impulsive choices, and the vagaries of post graduation life make many students poor candidates for pet ownership… Shelters in many college towns report end-of-semester pet dumping and abandonment.”
The article goes on to say that the Humane Society of the United States feels students and colleges are unaware of the huge responsibility of having a pet, while the ASPCA is “cautiously supportive” of the pet-friendly initiatives at schools. The ASPCA explains that students will have pets regardless, and that a well-structured and monitored policy will result in the animals’ best interest in the end.
In Eckerd’s case, the school seems to understand the responsibility involved in pet ownership and restricts “impulse pets” by ensuring that all campus pups have been a pet of the student for at least a year prior to attending. According to McDaniel, the college always makes the pet’s well-being a first priority, and in fact, size restrictions for dogs (under 40 lbs.) were created with their space needs in mind. Additionally, the college restricts pet ownership only to those who’ve completed at least one semester at the school.
The campus also boasts a responsible Pet Council with students at the reigns of very important initiatives among the pet life community. Among those initiatives is a campus-owned off leash dog park in the works now for two years. McDaniel hopes it will serve as a quick and easy space where students can socialize their pups and socialize with other students. Other pet perks include a veterinarian that comes to campus each semester to give free exams, free flea and tick medication for pets, training and behavioral workshops, and social gatherings for students and their pets. The Pet Life Council also fields complaints from the pet community and any neglected or mistreated pups are immediately taken care of and pet parents reprimanded. But, McDaniel says that complaints are extremely rare in their dorms.
Obviously, the old adage of “it takes a village” applies to pooches at Eckerd, where the sense of community support for students and their pets is overwhelming. McDaniel, also a Resident Advisor in one of the dorms, described a campus pet community that works as a support network for student pet parents. As he mentioned, neighbors or friends in the dorm will walk dogs or doggie sit for other students who might not have the time at that moment to give their pets the attention they need.
Although some may oppose student pet ownership while in school, it might be argued that some of these pups are getting a better deal than most dogs in general. For Ducheny, her college campus and the surrounding areas are a great leap from the small, cramped apartments of New York City. “There’s a beach literally hundreds of feet away from where I live. I think [Bella] has more of an active life living here than she did just living with me,” emphasized Ducheny.
McDaniel says that most people choose Eckerd because of their pet-friendly policies and feels that other colleges should reap the benefits of having pets on campus as well. Ducheny agreed, mentioning that many of her friends were seriously considering apartments because of their school’s pet policies. “I know quite a few of my friends that are looking at other universities and are really upset they can’t bring their dog or cat to the campus,” said Ducheny, whose choice to attend Eckerd was greatly influenced by their pet policy.
It’s possible that Eckerd’s small campus size and its thoroughly organized program are reasons for its success. Pet-friendly dorms may not be for every school, but those willing to inject the proper time, money, and energy into implementing a program will have a matriculation of happy pooches and pet parents.
For this writer, the years of college dorms are long gone, but the thought of owning a pet that first year brings up both feelings of dread and tremendous comfort. Being responsible for a pet while juggling courses would have seemed impossible, but having the snuggles from my little pup when homesickness set in would have made all the difference. Who knows, my Jack Russell Terrier/Chihuahua mix Irie just might have aced the college dog test!
Images courtesy of Eckerd College’s Pet Life website and Melissa Ducheny
Would you love to take your pooch to college? If you had the opportunity would you? Tell us what you think in the Comments section.